ACW (acw) wrote,

What happened to Project Project Gutenberg?

Almost a year and a half ago, after reporting on Service's The Spell of the Yukon, I briefly mentioned that my Nook's battery was failing, and that there would be a "brief pause" in Project Project Gutenberg, my silly-but-to-me-fun project for reading things in the order that they were digitized by Project Gutenberg.

I've explained what happened, in person, to at least one of my readers. Now I suppose I owe an explanation to the other one.

I bought a new Nook "Simple Glow", essentially just like the reader that failed, but with a back-lighting option for reading in the dark. I learned that I could not begin using the new reader until I had agreed to its terms and conditions (by tapping a virtual button labeled "I agree").

The license agreement was almost two hundred screens long. I didn't mind the legalese -- I can mostly understand it as a second-language reader. But the sheer volume was daunting, and as I got into it, I became angrier and angrier at the terms I was required to agree to. Basically, I was not allowed to rely on the reader performing its most basic function: apparently Barnes and Noble, not I, the purchaser, own the right to determine what lives in the reader's memory. They could, with no excuse, claw back any digital content on the machine. Now, remember that I will be using this reader to read public-domain epubs that I download for free from Project Gutenberg, a charitable nonprofit that uses volunteer labor for all its digitization. As far as I can tell, Barnes and Noble would be within their claimed rights to even claw back that content from my reader.

Furthermore, they would not guarantee that the license agreement's terms and conditions would remain constant. It would by my responsibility to keep myself current with the agreement, by checking back at a website periodically. If the terms changed, and I did not like a new condition, my options were limited to not using the reader any more. No mention of a refund.

I doggedly read about a third of the agreement. The reader had no function whatsoever except to be an agreement-viewer, until I agreed. I was quite bemused by that -- there was no feature of the object I had just bought that the manufacturers would let me use unless I agreed to all their conditions, most of which applied to use of their online service (which I wasn't planning to use much). Then, I noticed a hotlink in the text -- a thing that you could tap, presumably, to see a certain Barnes and Noble web page. Since the link appeared to be active, I couldn't resist tapping it, to see if this function had been disabled, even though that would compromise the device's utility as an expensive agreement-viewer.

It was worse than disabled. Tapping the link crashed the reader, hard. I had to power it off, leave it for an hour or so, and then power it on.

It had forgotten where I was in the agreement. I had to start from the beginning. There was no fast-forward option -- I had to tap through every screen. I caught up, and continued reading. About 2/3 of the way through, I hit the "I agree" button by mistake instead of the "next page" thing. Now I was in a weird situation. I did not agree. I had indicated my agreement with what claimed to be a binding agreement by mistake. But the machine was unlocked; it would now let me use all its functions.

Working up to buying a new reader, and laboring through the agreement, took months, most of which were spent procrastinating and fuming. Finally, after that last mishap, I talked to my son, who was then a second-year law student. (He will be graduating this summer!) He assured me that agreements of this kind were almost-universally considered to be bullshit. Their numerous divergences from classic contract law (conditions favoring only one side, without consideration for the other side, flawed evidence of "agreement", and much more) have simply never been tested in court. Apparently, it's 99% bluster and he informally recommended that that I simply continue using the darn thing. So finally I did.

It's been quite a few months since then, but mostly I've been using it to read things to Dr. Wife (most recently, Brust's Viscount of Adrilankha series, and Rushdie's Luka and the Fire of Life). In the meantime, my own reading has been quite random. I reread Doc Smith's ancient Lensman series, sort of the founding work of "space opera". I reread all of Harry Potter. Now, for some reason, I seem to have started to read David Hume's History of England, which he worked on up to the end of his life in 1776. I can't remember what got me started on this. Oh, I know. I also read the Penguin History of England series, and found it too heavy on the social analysis and too skimpy on the pure storytelling which is what I most love about history, so I resolved to read something in a more classic vein.

It'll be something of a long read, but I will get back to Project Project Gutenberg after that.
Tags: computers, literature, society
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